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Tarsila, the “Picasso of Brazil”

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In her native country, Brazil, all you need to say is her first name: Tarsila.

 

Now on display in New York after a run in Chicago: the work of a Brazilian artist Faith Salie says North Americans need to know …

“For Brazilians, her recognition is kind of off the charts,” said James Rondeau, the director of the Art Institute of Chicago, recent home to an exhibit of Tarsila’s work. “She is the Picasso of Brazil.”

But in the United States, artist Tarsila do Amaral is virtually unknown.

Salie asked, “Why hasn’t there been an exhibition devoted to her until now?”

“It’s a difficult question to answer in some ways, right?” Rondeaus aid. “We’re facing issues of geography; we’re facing issues of gender. So, I think this exhibition aims to be a corrective, both in terms of recognition for Tarsila’s work, but also in terms of how we understand the story of modernism.”

Tarsila is considered the mother of modern art in Brazil. Born in 1886 in Sao Paulo on a coffee plantation, her family’s wealth allowed her to travel and pursue higher education, which was unconventional for women at the time.

In her 30s, she moved to Paris — a single woman determined to become a modern artist.

While in Paris she absorbed the avant garde trends of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși, and Fernand Léger, among others. “She experimented with Cubism, and she kind of said, ‘You know, I understand it. It’s not for me,'” said Rondeau.

“She called it her ‘military service,'” said Salie.

“Exactly. It was obligatory, right? And she was aware of a responsibility, an ambition, a desire to somehow represent Brazil — to be a fundamentally Brazilian artist.”

It meant painting her homeland’s plants and animals with whimsical surrealism and vibrant color — not just the colors of Brazil’s landscape, but of its native people, too.

“The colors are absolutely beautiful,” said Salie.

“Vibrant, tropical — this is not a ‘European palette,’ right?” said Rondeau. “This is a palette that’s trying to speak about her native Brazil, and a Brazilian sensibility.”